Manchester City 2 Chelsea 1: Story Of A Match

With limited opportunities for silverware remaining in season 2012/2013, Manchester City faced Chelsea at Wembley on Sunday looking to move through to the FA Cup final against Wigan in a month's time. Today on the blog Matt Wallace tells us how City came away with the win.

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Man City and Chelsea met on Sunday at Wembley in one of the biggest games of each other’s seasons so far. With Chelsea out of the title race and labouring in the Europa League, the FA Cup offers a slight chance of salvaging something from the season. The same can be said for Man City, who may be mathematically still in with the title, but know this is their only chance of silverware.

First Impressions

Rafa Benitez picked all three of his playmaking midfielders behind Ba, a rare departure for the manager who has preferred a bit more balance during the season.

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For City, Tevez supported Aguero up front, with Nasri and Milner providing support from the flanks.

Man City were threatening from the start, using the sharp, direct running from their Argentinean front two to cause Chelsea problems, in particular in the channel between centre-back and full back. The signs were there early on, as shown below, with Aguero bursting down the flank, leaving a trailing Azplicueta behind him, and with Ivanovic ball watching, Sergio was able to gain a yard of space and fire in a good effort. It wasn’t the last.

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One thing they were able to call upon was their variety in attack. Milner, having such a strong season, was a constant threat to Bertrand at left back while the clever movement of Nasri and Toure meant there was fluidity to their attacks, with Ramires and Mikel often unsure who to pick up and who’s run to track. This became more evident when City finally went ahead.

City open the scoring

This attack was pretty devastating. Hunting in numbers, City broke forward and just overwhelmed Chelsea – who didn’t help themselves. Both Ramires and Mikel were pedestrian at best in their tracking back, allowing the City forwards to outnumber their opponents and cause havoc in the area.

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City of course benefited from a couple of lucky bounces, but that takes nothing away from the attack – the thread had been there all half, and Chelsea were struggling to match it.

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This was in part because of the narrowness of their three number 10’s. Above was one of the examples, as Oscar and Hazard frequently cut inside and occupied the same space as that patrolled, excellently, by Yaya Toure and Barry. With the middle of the pitch increasingly congested, they didn’t have a striker with the right sort of off-the-ball movement to make it work. Ba is good, but you know what you’re getting – direct, physical attacks through the middle and off the shoulder of defenders. He didn’t try to create space, work defenders or move them around. This just led to Chelsea attacks being fairly straightforward.

City extend their lead

Early in the 2nd half Man City extended their lead, and it was again down to the superb movement of Aguero. A freekick was played around the final third, and Aguero stationed himself between Ivanovic and Azpilicueta, before moving in front of the centreback, peeling around the back and picking up a perfect position in front of the fullback. He was the only one to read the cross perfectly, with Ivanovic being caught out by Sergio’s run and stepping forward, and Azpilicueta – not for the first time – being flat footed. It was everything we’ve come to love about Aguero.

Following this, City had a couple of chances to extend the lead, but failed to make any of them really count. The game was in a familiar rhythm at this point, with Chelsea getting more involved in the game as Oscar and Mata in particular found space to work, especially in wide positions, while City were a threat on the counter with Yaya Toure supporting Aguero getting forward. Things changed when Torres came on.

Enter Torres

Torres was looking like his old self in the Europa League last week, his movement and pace causing problems all night. He entered this game after 65 minutes, replacing Mikel who was mediocre in the holding role. A minute later, Chelsea were on the scoreboard. It wasn’t Torres, but his strike partner Ba, but a slight credit has to go to Fernando for occupying Kompany and allowing the bouncing ball to even reach Ba.

This sparked a resurgence from the West Londoners, and the addition of Torres, occupying defenders and creating space, has to be credited. Within minutes Hazard was causing problems, setting up Mata and Ba and forcing smart saves from Pantilimon.

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To City’s credit, they responded ably and began putting up solid resistance. Without the ball they organised into solid banks of four, aware that Chelsea’s playmakers wanted to cut central and almost daring them to play the ball out wide. The crosses coming in, from overlapping fullbacks in Bertrand and Azpilicueta, were average and not the sort that Ba or Torres would be able to feed off.

When they did get the ball, they were able to break at speed – and here the shorter schedule became clear. As time wore on, Chelsea clearly tired, their Europa League exertions taking their toll. Tevez was replaced by Javi Garcia in the middle, providing an extra layer of protection and allowing Toure to be a counter attacking threat in support of Aguero.

Chris Hoy

Towards the end of the game, the key talking points surrounded Chris Hoy, the referee. His inability to spot a couple of key decisions, both against Chelsea, could arguably have swung the game.

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First of all, Aguero dived in two footed on David Luiz. Secondly, Torres had his shirt dragged all over the place inside the box. The latter decision in particular was key – Hoy’s inability to spot a clear penalty denied Chelsea the chance to draw level, hardly the only example of inconsistent officiating this weekend.

The Final Word

Yet all in all, Chelsea’s performance probably wasn’t one that warranted a draw. They came back strong in the second half but this was after an hour or so of being 2nd best, often clearly so. This is no doubt in part down to their schedule and the sheer number of games they’ve had to play, but the freshness of Man City, combined with their inventive and effective approach put them as clearly the superior side. Barry and Yaya were excellent in keeping the Chelsea playmakers quiet, while Aguero was as good as we’ve seen him all season.

A largely deserved win for City, who go on to meet Wigan in the final.

 

 

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